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The Sudanese Identity By Bushara Ahmed Gumaa, President of Darfur Friends Association (DFA)

4/14/2006 5:35 pm

By Bushara Ahmed Gumaa, President of Darfur Friends Association (DFA)
e-mail: [email protected]
April 14, 2006

Historical background of the term Sudan:

Theres no doubt that the issue of the identity is the most controversial and the term Sudan doesnt has the same meaning today as a hundred years ago. And within five years it could mean something quite different from today. So, before defining the Sudanese identity lets talk about the historical background of the term Sudan: Long time ago, the Arabs (from the Arabic Peninsula) referred to the whole African region situated south to Egypt and beyond the Red sea as Arad-Assudan (the land of blacks), later, the Turkish and the European colonialists determined the current borders.

Before the independence of the Sudan there were the British Sudan and the French Sudan; the first was referred to our Country and the second referred to Mali, Chad, Senegal and Niger. Our country was the first of these countries to get independence and the third in Africa, the first was Liberia and the second was Egypt. We had to go to talk with these countries so as to give up using the term Sudan when they get their independence. Fortunately, they agreed. Therefore, the term sudan became ours.

The Sudan now and tomorrow:

If Sudan got its independence before 1916, the Darfur region would not belong to it; since Darfur was an independence Sultanate at that time, with its own embassies all over the world. But, in 1916 the British occupied it and annexed it to Sudan. Moreover, the current borders could be modified in 2011. Since The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that signed between the Al-Intikas regime of the dictator Omar Al-Bashir and the SPLM/A on January 9, 2005 recognizes the right of self-determination for the Southerners. In 2011 there will be a referendom on this issue, therefore, if the majority of the Southerners vote in favour of independence, then when we talk about Sudan well not refer to the biggest country in Africa and maybe we had to rename it to North Sudan, if the hypothetical new State in the South called South Sudan Nation.

My point of view about the Sudanese identy:

I first introduced this background so as to justify my own definition to the Sudanese identity. From my point of view any national identity consists of two sub-identies: the ethnical identity and the cultural identity. This last one depends on the language, religion and the cultural inheritance. Therefore, Sudan hasnt got a unique national identity, but its a set of various identities. Because, our country is ethnically and religously heterogenous and there are hundreds of languages used beside the arabic language.

The ethnical problems in Sudan:

The main problem in our society is that we live in a segregated society, and there are two types of segregation:

The Official Segregation:

In whole our cities there are first class zones and second class zones. And the quality of the public services and infrastructures depend directly on the class of the zones: the first class is reserved for the governments members and rich people. The best hospitals, schools, roads and infrastructures are reserved for the first class, and the worst services and infrastructures for the second class. And the third class has nothing, because they live on the margin of the society. So, the segregation and the discremination between the citizens are ofitial. If theres justice, then all residential areas should have the same public services and infrastructures, independently of their class. However, private schools, hospitals, etc. have the right to do what they want.

Unofficial Segregation:

In Sudan we used to live in groups and still doing so, wherever you go (cities, villages or even in the capital), each Hay (zone) is inhabited by a specific tribe or different tribes with the same ethnic group and, the city sectors are named according to their citizens: Hay Al-Aarab (the Arabic zone), Hay Al-Fallatah (Fulanis sector), etc. and the best example is the capital of Sudan, Khartoum: In which youll find some areas of the city exclusively inhabited by a certain ethnic group. Moreover, they do their best to maintain this situation and consider the other ethnic groups as strangers. But the most strange is that the majority of the Sudanese people accept this situation and consider it as normal.

As consequences, some ethnic groups are strongly rejected, if they try to get married from other ethnic groups. The countrys provinces also are divided in classes: for instance, Khartoum is first class, Al-Jazira and the northern provinces are second class and the third class are Darfur and the Southern provinces. The public services and infrastructures depend directly on the previous classification. For this reason, Darfur and South Sudan are the most disadvantaged regions and, their people suffer from all kind of discrimination during decades.

The current confilct in Darfur is ethnical, economical and political:

The power in Sudan is controlled by a specific ethnic groups, those who live in first class provinces and first class zones: They impose their own identity so as to be the unique national identity, ignoring the other identities. Moreover, they despreciate the indigenous Sudanese people and their identies. As I mentioned before, Darfur and South Sudan always considered as third class regions by whole central governments, since independence day, and as consequences they didnt pay any attention to improve the life of their citizens. They just used their resources so as to build the first class regions (Khartoum and its neighboring regions) Moreover, the Darfurians were used by the sucessive central government as soldiers in order to fight against the Southerners who stood up for their rights, demanding justice. The two regions (Darfur and South Sudan) a part from poverty, misery and lake of infrastructure, they suffered from many losses of their sons, millons killed in the battlefield and many others suffer from amputation, etc.

After decades of war, starvation and misery the Darfurian people has realized that they are dying for nothing, since they are suffering the same as their neighbours in the South. Then they stood up like the southerners, took the arms and demand justice. As the majority of the soldiers of the Sudanese army are Darfurians, the dictatorial regime didnt dare to use them against their brothers. But, it got benefits from the segregated society system: it armed some people who belong to arabic ethnic group so as to fight against the indigenous attacking the rebels bases and their tribes (killing civilans, burning their huts and destroying their resources)

Some indigenous Sudanese people confuse between the ethnic identity and the religious identity, they believe that theyre Arabs because theyre Muslims. However, Arabic people call them Zourga (blacks) and all these ethnic disputes are thanks to the segregation system previously mentioned, because it strengthens the tribalism and weaks the real integration between the Sudanese ethnic groups.

The Gray Identity:

As I mentioned before, I divide the identity into two sub-identies: an ethnical identity and a cultural identity. Both of them are susceptible to transformation. Actually, theres no pure races nor pure ethnic groups. Except some oriental societies like Chinese, Japanese, etc. who still resisting the racial globalization even though theyre leading the comertial globalization. The following examples would give you a clear idea about what I mean:

The Gray Ethnical Identity:

In South America the grandsons of the Spanish colonialists, those who conquered America with Christopher Columbus in 1492, demanded their independence from the Spanish Crown, after some centuries living in their new homeland, because they felt more Americans than European, but they were proud to be Spanish and they distinguished themselves from the american native citizens by their Spanish-blood, even though they are a mixed between Spanish settlers and native indian americans and black people. Finally, they got their independence, now their countries are known by Latin American countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Santo Domingo, etc.

Many of them still have relatives in Spain. But, when they go there to visit their relatives or on vacation they shock, because they suffer from discrimination; they called Sudacas (South Americans) and Mulatos(mulattos, mixed), in a racist connotation. In spite of the fact that they speak Spanish, have the same religion as Spanish people (Catholic), however, their skins are no longer so clear as their brothers in Spain. Since theyve mixed with the native indian americans and black people who brought from Africa as slaves. Nevertheless, in America, they call themselves Spanish and considered themselves as white people and discriminate the indigenous Red Indians and black people. In reality, if they go to Sudan, theyll be called Khawajat (white European) by the racist dictator Omar Al-Bashir who call the indigenous Darfurian people Zourga (blacks) but hell be called Negro (black) by the South American people, who suffer from discrimination in Spain.

The Gray Cultural Identity:

There are many Afro-Americans in South America and the Caribbean Islands who still keep their ethnic group intact, they havent mixed with any other ethnic groups or at least their appearances look like african people, but, they are no longer speak their african languages, they speak either Spanish, French or English. So, they call themselves Latinos and they are not proud of their african origin, except very few of them. Thus, the language is a powerful means to convey cultural values. This is the reason why the majority of the black people in America dont feel close to Africa and the African people, since their roots has been cut by the slave traders; who imposed their languages, religions and cultural values.

In Sudan, some indigenous people in Darfur and in other parts of the country are no longer speak their native languages, because they born in big cities where the only spoken language is Arabic or their languages have been extinguished like dinosaurs. Now they consider themselves as Arabic, even though their appearances indicate clearly their indigenous origin.

In sum, everybody has the right to be proud of his or her region, religion or ethnic group, but nobody has the right to despise those who dont belong to his or her ethnic group. I do believe that the Sudanese identity should not be a unique identity that only represents a sector of the society, as today. But, an identity make up of various sub-identies that include all the ethnic groups identities and their cultural diversities.

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